Mrs Bouverie and Mrs Crewe. Print after Sir Joshua Reynolds. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund.

Mrs Bouverie and Mrs Crewe: two Whig hostesses from the 18th Century

Following on from our blog about women in 18th century politics  we found ourselves researching two of the women who have often been mentioned in connection with the Duchess of Devonshire in regard to the political campaign of 1784 where they all three were ardent supporters of Charles James Fox.  Our previous blog article on ladies in politics in the 18th Century briefly mentioned Mrs Bouverie and Mrs Crewe, but we thought they were worthy of a blog in their own right, giving a little biographical information about them.

Harriet Bouverie (nee Fawkener, later Lady Robert Spencer); Edward Bouverie sold by James Watson, sold by Butler Clowes, after Sir Joshua Reynolds
Harriet Bouverie. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

Mrs Bouverie was born Harriet Fawkener in 1750, the daughter of Sir Everard Fawkener, silk merchant and diplomat, and Harriet, natural daughter of Lieutenant General Charles Churchill who was himself illegitimate and a nephew of the 1st Duke of Marlborough.  Sir Everard Fawkener is chiefly remembered to history as the great friend of the philosopher Voltaire. She was also the brother of William Fawkener, who will, in part be remembered for fighting a duel in 1786.

Hampshire Chronicle 29 May 1786
Hampshire Chronicle 29 May 1786

On the 30th June, 764, at St. George’s in Hanover Square, London, Harriet married the Honourable Edward Bouverie of Delapré Abbey in Northamptonshire who was to become Member of Parliament for Salisbury and Northampton.  The History of Parliament website describes him as ‘An habitué of Brooks’s Club, he regarded himself as a personal friend of Charles James Fox and aped his politics.

St George's, Hanover Square by T. Malton, 1787
St George’s, Hanover Square by T. Malton, 1787

Mrs Bouverie was actively campaigning for the Whig party in 1784 and her connections carried on for many years.  She entertained lavishly at her house, her dinner guests Charles James Fox, Lord Robert Spencer, Colonel Fitzpatrick and many others.  She was also friends with Richard Brinsley Sheridan and particularly with Sheridan’s wife, Elizabeth Anne née Linley, another woman about whom we have written.  Mrs Sheridan once recalled sitting up without a fire together with Mrs Bouverie till six in the morning to hear the result of a parliamentary debate and falling ill in consequence.

The Bouverie’s had three daughters, Harriet Elizabeth, Jane and Diana Juliana Margaretta and three sons, Edward, John and Henry Frederick Bouverie.  The youngest child, Diana, born on the 19th September, 1786, although acknowledged as a Bouverie was, in fact, a Spencer.  Her mother Harriet had begun an affair with Lord Robert Spencer, youngest son of the 2nd Duke of Marlborough and Diana was his child.  She was referred to as the ‘tell-tale Bouverie’ as she looked so much like her natural father, and he left virtually everything he owned to her in his will.  There was also a rumoured love affair with Richard Brinsley Sheridan.

Lord Robert Spencer (1747-1831); Joshua Reynolds, 1769; National Trust, Woolbeding
Lord Robert Spencer (1747-1831); Joshua Reynolds, 1769; National Trust, Woolbeding

Lord Robert Spencer was, like Edward Bouverie, a Member of Parliament and a close friend and staunch supporter of Charles James Fox and the Whig party and, like Fox, a gambler, at one point having to sell his paintings to pay his debts.  The Prince of Wales and his brother the Duke of York were part of this circle.  Mrs Bouverie became the long-term mistress of Lord Robert Spencer, living in a mènage á trois with her husband and her lover.

Edward Bouverie died on the 3rd September, 1810, aged 72 years, leaving behind him a disorganized mess and debts which his family knew little about.  From his will he seems to bear no ill feelings towards his wife and asks that if he dies in Sussex he be buried at Woolbeding, where Lord Robert Spencer’s estate was.  Harriet suffered a year of mourning, for the sake of decency, before finally marrying Lord Robert Spencer on the 2nd October, 1811, at his estate of Woolbeding in Sussex.  The couple had no further children and Harriet died on the 17th November, 1825, survived by her 2nd husband. 

Duchess of Devonshire, Viscountess Duncannon and Mrs Crewe. Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library.
Duchess of Devonshire, Viscountess Duncannon and Mrs Crewe. Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library.

 Mrs Bouverie’s great friend was the beautiful and witty Mrs Crewe, born Frances Anne Greville in 1748, the daughter of Fulke Greville, envoy extraordinary to the elector of Bavaria.  At the age of eighteen she married John Crewe of Crewe Hall in Cheshire in 1766 and subsequently entertained Charles James Fox and his circle in the same way that Mrs Bouverie did.

Frances Anne Crewe. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.
Frances Anne Crewe. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

 The two women shared many things, including the affections of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, but whilst Mrs Bouverie was reputed to be a passing fancy of his, Mrs Crewe embarked on a full blown affair with the playwright lasting around a decade from the mid 1770s.  Sheridan’s School for Scandal was dedicated to her and he called her ‘Amoret,’ a name coined by Sheridan’s wife Elizabeth for Mrs Crewe, probably when she first became aware of the relationship.  He also dedicated another play The Critic to her mother Frances Greville née Macartney who years earlier had been an acquaintance of Sarah Lennox, Duchess of Richmond.

Family Group (called 'The Sheridan Family': Richard Sheridan, 1751–1816, Elizabeth Linley, 1754–1792); Benjamin West, c.1776; Walker Art Gallery
Family Group (called ‘The Sheridan Family’: Richard Sheridan, 1751–1816, Elizabeth Linley, 1754–1792); Benjamin West, c.1776; Walker Art Gallery

In 1785, Mrs Sheridan wrote to a friend, Mary Anne Canning, from Crewe Hall:

 S is in Town – and so is Mrs Crewe.  I am in the Country and so is Mr Crewe – a very convenient Arrangement, is it not?

While her husband idolized Fox and bankrolled him to a large extent, Mrs Crewe was one of the leading lights along with the Duchess of Devonshire in the parties of ladies who canvassed for Charles James Fox at the 1784 election in Westminster.  She hosted a party on the evening of his victory, 18th May 1784, at her London townhouse, everyone wearing blue and buff which had been adopted as Fox’s colours.  The Prince of Wales was present and proposed a toast, “True blue and Mrs Crewe”.  Mrs Crewe raised her glass and famously replied, “True blue and all of you”.

Frances Anne Crewe as St Genevieve. Print after Sir Joshua Reynolds. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.
Frances Anne Crewe as St Genevieve. Print after Sir Joshua Reynolds. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

In 1806 John Crewe was raised to the Peerage by Fox, becoming Lord Crewe and making Frances Lady Crewe.  The couple had four children, two of whom survived infancy, a son named John (1772-1835) and a daughter, Elizabeth Emma (1780-1850).  Mrs Crewe died on the 23rd December, 1818.

Sources: www.historyofparliamentonline.org; The Gentleman’s Magazine, July-December, 1831, volume CI; Richard Brinsley Sheridan: A Life by Linda Kelly

Header image: Mrs Bouverie and Mrs Crewe. Print after Sir Joshua Reynolds. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund.

Advertisements

Women in 18th Century Politics – 1784 Election

A Borough secur'd or Reynards resource: a caricature featuring the Duchess of Devonshire and Charles James Fox
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

As we all know the ‘well to do’ women of the Georgian era were regarded as objects of beauty that simply swooned and fainted at the sight of a gallant gentleman. They wore stunningly beautiful clothes and shoes and spent hours on their hair and beauty regime. They paraded around Georgian London, Bath, Brighton etc. in their finery and partied into the early hours, but on the whole, they were regarded as fairly vacuous creatures.

STOP RIGHT THERE!

OK, so we’ve done the whole film thing, now let’s move on and dispense with that image. If we’re being totally honest that is, to a certain extent, the stereotypical image held of women from that period as, let’s face it, they had very few, if any ‘rights’ during that time. Only those in what was regarded as the lower class, worked, the remainder were kept in comfort by their spouses or parents if not married, they had no voting rights, rarely any disposable income of their own unless they had inherited money that was solely for their use and their husband could divorce them with minimal discomfort on their part.

The Duchess of Devonshire and Charles James Fox
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Whilst women were maybe not able to publicly ‘have a voice’ in the world around them and how it worked it, appears from reading the newspapers of the day that actually they took more than a passing interest in the arts, science and politics. Many of the names we have become familiar with over the years did, in fact, take a more active role in politics than we had at first assumed with many of them engaged in gathering support for their chosen politician during elections using whatever methods were at their disposal.

One of the most famous election campaigns that took place was that of the 1784 Westminster election.   If you thought politics and political campaigning today was vicious then take a look back to the Georgian era when things were far worse!  We came across a book written October 1784 that provides a detailed account of all the events during the campaign – History of the Westminster Election from 1st  April to the 17th May.  

A meeting of the female canvassers in Covent Garden
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

The Westminster election was of paramount importance as this was one of the key boroughs for two reasons – firstly every male homeowner could vote and secondly due to the number of voters it was equally important to both the Whig and Tory parties. There were two seats to be had and three candidates, so the battle was between Cecil Wray and Lord Hood, both Tory’s, and Charles Fox, Whig, therefore the candidates needed to use every weapon in their armoury to achieve success; none more so than Charles Fox. The battle then commenced.

The Duchess of Devonshire by Joshua Reynolds.
The Duchess of Devonshire by Joshua Reynolds.

The Duchess of Devonshire led the female canvassers accompanied by her sister Lady Harriet Duncannon, as she was titled at that point, later to become Lady Bessborough. The list of women involved in the election included Albinia, The Countess of Buckinghamshire, the Duchess of Portland, Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s wife, Elizabeth née Linley, Lady Jersey, the Honourable Mrs Bouverie and the Scandalous Lady Worsley.

Lady Worsley by Joshua Reynolds
Lady Worsley, Joshua Reynolds

Others including Perdita aka Mrs Robinson, The White Crow, aka Maria Corbyn,  The Bird of Paradise aka Gertrude Mahon, Lady Archer, Lady Carlisle, Mrs Crewe, Mrs Damer and the Miss Waldengraves,  Lady Grosvenor and Mrs Armistead, the future Mrs Fox,  so quite a little collection.

Mrs Bouverie and Mrs Crewe. Print after Sir Joshua Reynolds. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund.
Mrs Bouverie and Mrs Crewe. Print after Sir Joshua Reynolds. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund.

The Morning Post and Daily Advertiser of 6th April 1784 confirmed that the

Duchess of Devonshire along with Lord Derby & Lord Keppel are the firm of Mr Fox’s responsible committee.

This seems to imply that her role was a little more than just to ‘look pretty’; presumably, she was there to help to obtain votes however she could. It is reported that she canvassed every day and that she arranged for a thousand coalition medals to be struck, one of which she gave to every voter who agreed to support Fox.

NPG D9540; 'A coalition medal struck in brass' (Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guilford; Charles James Fox) by James Sayers, published by Edward Hedges
Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

Just over a week later The Bath Chronicle reported that

‘ It was observed of the Duchess of Devonshire and Lady Duncannon, while they were soliciting votes in favour of Mr Fox, on Saturday last, they were the most lovely portraits that ever appeared upon a canvas’.

Like most people we had heard the story that the Duchess secured votes for Charles Fox by offering kisses in exchange for their vote, but until now we had assumed this was simply a myth that has evolved over time due to the astounding number of caricatures of such a scene, but it does seem from this letter written by a certain Duchess to Fox that there was some truth in it*.

‘Dear Charles

Yesterday I sent you three votes but went through much fatigue to procure them. It cost me ten kisses for every plumper.  I’m afraid we are done up – I will see you at the porter shop and we will discuss ways and means’.

Yours

D_____e House

NB Clare Market is a filthy place – keep up your spirits. I have a borough – you know where.’

The was much printed in the newspapers about her ‘method’ and many derogatory comments made about morals. The reality, however, was that amongst the public she was a very popular figure, not only because of her looks but also because she did actually engage with the public and by all accounts was able to discuss eloquently and put forward information about what Fox stood for.

As a campaigner for Wray we have the much quieter and more demure Duchess of Rutland, needless to say, we don’t have a plethora of caricatures for her!

‘we can assure the public, that the beautiful and accomplished Duchess of Rutland does not drive about the streets and alleys, or otherwise act in a manner unbecoming of a lady of rank and delicacy’.

Procession to the Hustings after a successful canvass.
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library Duchess of Devonshire, Lady Duncannon and possibly Mrs Crewe

Despite the mocking and caricatures of these women, predominantly  of the Duchess of Devonshire, and the vile abuse they apparently received from Wray’s supporters and the press, the only person who apparently clearly objected to her participation in the election was her mother who felt that she was being used by Fox, no-one else appeared to have any objection which is quite telling; it appears that even the Queen was a supporter of the Duchess of Devonshire:

Her majesty has all the morning prints at breakfast every day and the Princesses are permitted to read them. Her eye caught the indecency of that one which attacked the Duchess of Devonshire. She gave it to an attendant and said let that paper never more enter the palace doors.  The story got round and the same orders were given everywhere else.’ 

There were even comments made that women’s participation in politics could result in them wanting to vote – shock horror, how times have changed!

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. National Portrait Gallery.
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. National Portrait Gallery.

The Duchess of Devonshire suffered greatly at the hands of the press, but she clearly had a passion for politics and felt that the country would benefit from Fox’s appointment. We are aware from The Cavendish Family by Francis Bickley, that she wrote to her mother advising her of how miserable she was, but that she had begun her involvement and that she would see it through to the end.  Given that the odds were stacked against Fox winning the election from the beginning, it could be argued that a win from Fox was highly unlikely that without the help of these women!

Election te^te-a`-te^te
1784 Election Tete a Tete

15th May of 1784 The Morning Post and Daily Advertiser printed the following letter purporting to be from Lady Worsley to the Duchess of Devonshire, whether it was genuine or not we have no idea, but it is nevertheless interesting

Madam

Before the General Election in the year 1780, the name of Lady W____y stood fair and respectable; the gay world derives no entertainment from her follies. The forms of decency and decorum had not been neglected, and, therefore men of gallantry felt but little encouragement to make approaches.  Sir Richard found not Cassio’s kisses on my lips, for neither Cassio nor Roderigo revelled there. But, Madam   in the general Election of that day I acted like yourself – like a woman of life – a woman of spirit, but how unlike a politician! As you set your face against Sir Cecil Wray, I opposed my influence to that of Jervoise Clerk Jervoise.  I coaxed, I canvassed; I made myself, in the language of Shakespear ‘base, common and popular’. I was charmed with the public attention I received from the men; they talked to me of irresistible graces; the pressed my fingers; they squeezed my hand and my pulse beat quicker; they touched my lips, and my blood ran riot; they pressed me in  their arms and turned my brain. O, the joy! The rapture, the enchanting, thrilling, aching sensations, which beset my soul! They banished in an instant, all ideas of a cold, a formal education; they drove from my mind all decent forms which time and observation had copied there. Your Grace is apprized of the sequel. Before the canvas – Was your Grace strict? So was I. Was your Grace modest? So was I.  And if after the canvas, your Grace should find a violent metamorphosis in your feelings; I am ready to confess – so did I.

I am, Madam

Dorothea W____y

Did our favourite 18th-century lady, Grace Dalrymple Elliott, interest herself in politics?  Discover more in An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott which reveals all.

 

* History of the Westminster Election, 1784